The Lost City of Z from James Gray is an entertaining, moving and, engaging jungle adventure/psychological portrait of an extraordinary man, Irish explorer Colonel Percival Fawcett. His Amazon excursions of the 1920’s and 30’s fired international interest and the fashion for jungle exoticism. Sons of Anarchy’s Charlie Hunnam as Fawcett becomes obsessed with the rumoured “city of gold” and searches for it, for years at a time, leaving his wife (Sienna Miller) and children alone. Fawcett had an unusual rapport with the native tribes and was able to survive his treks thanks to their support. In 1925, Fawcett and his son (Tom Holland) disappeared without a trace. Twilight’s Robert Pattinson is nearly unrecognisable as a bearded and bespectacled scientist but seems rather comfy as second banana. Gray avoids the racist “white man in the jungle” tropes of typical jungle adventures and focuses on authentic psychology, thrilling journeys and the mystery. Top drawer.
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Colossal is an intriguingly genre-bending project produced by and starring Anne Hathaway. She’s an alcoholic New Yorker whose life is going quickly downhill; she can’t control her drinking, her boyfriend (Dan Stevens) throws her out and she’s forced to camp out at her family’s empty home upstate. She’s on the verge of collapse when she sees news footage of a monster terrorising Seoul, South Korea. She is somehow connected to it and controls it with her movements. This crazy reality wakes her up fast and seems to give her life meaning. Jason Sudeikis’ bar owner offers her a job and his heart but when he discovers her connection with the monster, he uses it against her. Hathaway puts in a terrifically gritty hard-edged perf as this stubborn and troubled woman, Stevens is the ultimate cad and coward and Sudeikis betrayal will send chills through your heart. This is good stuff. It’s original, compelling, a cinematic chess game pitting good against evil, cause and effect and the art of war and will.
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Disneynature’s documentary Born in China follows animal families living in the western wilds of China over the course of a year. Filmmakers use state of the art equipment to capture up-close-and-personal the cycle of life for pandas, leopards, monkeys, cranes and deer. These animals have adapted over millennia to withstand the brutal climate and food scarcities of the wilderness but the struggle carries on moment by moment. A mother leopard with two cubs must compete to keep them safe and fed, putting herself at risk while the animals she needs to feed on struggle for their lives. Born in China bristles with drama, urgency, beauty and pure emotion that will leave you moved and awestruck. John Krasinski narrates. Disney.
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Oscar Isaacs plays an Armenian whose country is under violent threat from Turkey and Russia in the historical drama The Promise. He is betrothed to a woman in his village but when he goes abroad to study medicine he falls in love with another woman and vies for her with an American reporter played by Christian Bale. Their love triangle becomes a quadrangle when he marries his betrothed but pines for his lover. Set in the last days of the 600 year old Ottoman Empire, the characters come together in an effort to save themselves from certain death by invading Turks. Fleeing Armenians attempt to flee but few make it. Refugees are murdered holus bolus in an outrageous crime against humanity. Turkey has yet to admit to the systemic genocide it carried out on Armenia that claimed at least 1.5M lives. What keeps our characters going in this turmoil is love, what else? eOne
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Free Fire has an important cast and that singular bloody vision of director Ben Wheatley and writer Amy Jump that we saw in High-Rise and A Field in England. If you’ve seen those, then you’ll know to expect emotional and moral extremes and extravagant gut churning violence. It is deeply bloody, death porn, humour and random cruelty that can have an exhilarating or nauseating effect. Oscar winner Brie Larson, Armie Hammer and Sharlto Copley lead the ensemble in a day long shoot-out that takes place in a Boston factory in 1978 where two gangs meet to broker drugs and money. Low ranking foot soldiers get into a tussle and set off an ugly gun battle – bang, bang, bang, blood and more blood with an incessant score of gunshots and screaming. It aims at highlighting the absurd aspects of our behaviour and underscores the Wheatley philosophy that life is cheap, there is nowhere to hide and you can’t trust anyone and the biggie – people are dumb. It will entertain some and completely repel others.
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Matt Tyrnauer’s galvanizing documentary Citizen Jane: Battle for the City describes the journey of a writer turned activist who helped turn the tide of bad city planning and saved our souls. Jacobs knew a city’s value is in the well-being of its citizens and the places they frequented – sidewalks, parks, neighbourhoods – made life safe and pleasant. Le Corbusier’s philosophy of stark modernism, wiping the old to make way for the new, that being soulless superblock residential towers, expressways through the heart of the city and its communities – she felt was an insidious deception. The wave of grim modernity nearly did sweep North America fifty years ago but heroine Jane’s movement grew and as a result, some plans were abandoned, some blocks were torn down and the movement to build soulless cities abated for time. Good thing she can’t see the condo landscape today.
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The doc Unity begins at the beginning, the formation of our beautiful “universe”, which translates to “turning into one” and follows human development to the present day. It’s not pretty. We’re educated in the arts and humanities and civility but humans are still the most destructive force on earth, wiping out one another, animals and nature. Unity explores why we can’t get along with graphic footage of bad stuff set against the beauty and potential of the world. The star studded voice cast of 100 includes Ben Kingsley, Susan Sarandon, Helen Mirren, Joaquin Phoenix, Dr. Dre and Selena Gomez. Unity looks at the pervasive blindness and artifice of modern life as a projection of ego. This stunning doc takes no prisoners and the imagery can be extremely brutal. You are warned. It’s on Saturday, April 22 at 9 p.m. ET/PT on National Geographic.
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Season Six of VEEP is underway on HBO and Selina, fresh from a crushing loss at the polls goes off the rails. She’s ticked that a female Nobel Prize winner did and she’s cross eyed with anger and mocking the woman’s achievement. And then she decides to run again much to the chagrin of her family and staff because “No one wants to see Meyer win”. In the meantime, Selina busies herself with raising funds to building her Presidential Library but finds little enthusiasm except in Georgia (Eastern Europe) where top officials offer her millions if she will only… Then someone calls her the “Godmother of Caucasian Spring”. British guest stars Stephen Frye and Sally Philips add zing.
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Albert Einstein is the first instalment of Genius, National Geographic’s first original scripted series. Einstein played by Geoffrey Rush was a radical thinker and scientist working as a professor in Berlin known for the formula that would ultimately change the way we think about life, the theory of relativity. His sharp personality is revealed through relationships with his children (callous) wives and mistresses (selfish), colleagues (self-aggrandizing) and his growing fears of Berlin’s increasing military presence and anti-Semitism that would set the stage for Hitler’s Third Reich. He was a man of principles in some matters like education, saying “The important thing is not to stop questioning. Curiosity has its own reason for existing.” The 10 part series, co-starring Emily Watson as his first wife, was filmed in Prague, Czech Republic and features the words of Marie and Pierre Curie, Wilhelm Rontgen, Carl Jung, Werner Heisenberg, and more. It’s on Tuesday, April 25 at 9 p.m. on National Geographic.
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Acorn has launched the second series of the multi- award winning Irish drama Dominion Creek, the first western made in Ireland and in Gaelic and English. The rugged Connolly brothers are in the Yukon seeking their fortune in the 1890’s Gold Rush. They’ve established themselves as a united force in the territory in the first season but now amidst growing lawlessness find themselves targets. Their family, friends and fortunes are at risk as tensions rise and a typhoid epidemic strikes. Owen McDonnell, Dara Devaney, Seán T. Ó Meallaigh play brothers Tom, Séamus and Pádraig. County Galway sits in for the rough and rugged Yukon. Stream now at www.AcornTv.com
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